The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin


Citation (APA): Rubin, G. (2017). The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too)

Your Tendency

I grasped at that moment that we all face two kinds of expectations: • outer expectations—expectations others place on us, like meeting a work deadline • inner expectations—expectations we place on ourselves, like keeping a New Year’s resolution

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

even assigned a color to each Tendency, by using the model of a traffic light. Yellow represents Questioners, because just as a yellow light cautions us to “wait” to decide whether to proceed, Questioners always ask “Wait, why?” before meeting an expectation. Green represents Obligers, who readily “go ahead.” Red represents Rebels, who are most likely to “stop” or say no. Because there’s no fourth traffic-light color, I chose blue for Upholders—which seems fitting.

This self-knowledge is crucial because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, and our own values.

Our Tendencies are hardwired: they’re not the result of birth order, parenting style, religious upbringing, gender. They’re not tied to extroversion or introversion. They don’t change depending on whether we’re at home, at work, with friends. And they don’t change as we age.

The happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren’t those from a particular Tendency, but rather they’re the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their Tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build the lives that work for them.

Knowing other people’s Tendencies also makes it much easier to persuade them, to encourage them, and to avoid conflict. If we don’t consider a person’s Tendency, our words may be ineffective or even counterproductive. The fact is, if we want to communicate, we must speak the right language—not the message that would work most effectively with us, but the message that will persuade the listener.

On the other hand, when we ignore the Tendencies, we lower our chances of success. The more an Upholder lectures a Rebel, the more the Rebel will want to resist. A Questioner may provide an Obliger with several sound reasons for taking an action, but those logical arguments don’t matter much to an Obliger; external accountability is the key for an Obliger.

How do you get an Upholder to change a lightbulb? Answer: He’s already changed it. How do you get a Questioner to change a lightbulb? Answer: Why do we need that lightbulb anyway? How do you get an Obliger to change a lightbulb? Answer: Ask him to change it. How do you get a Rebel to change a lightbulb? Answer: Do it yourself.

Upholder: “Discipline Is My Freedom”

The Upholder can become the fearless campaigner for justice, or the hanging judge who blindly enforces the law, or the tattletale schoolchild who reports every minor infraction by the other kids, or the boss who rejects the report because it’s submitted an hour late.

Although I have no problem using a unisex bathroom, I can’t make myself use a restroom marked MEN, even if it’s a single-occupant room.

Upholders can become disapproving and uneasy when others misbehave, even in minor ways. I get tense if someone starts whispering to me during a meeting. At the same time, my Upholderness can bring out my rude side. I don’t mean to be brusque or pushy, but I’m so worried about being late, or not following instructions correctly, that I may lose my courtesy.

On the other side, UPHOLDER/ Obligers tip toward responding to outer expectations. For UPHOLDER/ Obligers, the burden of outer expectations feels heavier, and if there’s a conflict, outer expectations may more easily trump inner expectations.

Though Upholders-tipped-to-Obligers have a commitment to both inner and outer expectations, for them, the pull of outer expectations is very hard to ignore; UPHOLDER/ Obligers must be sure to articulate inner expectations and to create boundaries to protect inner expectations from outer interference.

“We were in L.A., on West Coast time,” Elizabeth recalled, “and you decided that you and Eleanor should stay on East Coast time. Every night, you two ate dinner at about 4: 30 p.m., and then went to bed at 7: 30—and meanwhile, Adam, Jack, and I had a whole separate vacation, from 7 p.m. to midnight.” “That’s right!” I said. “See, to me, it seems like you miss out on fun and relaxation that way.” I could see her point, but when I thought about the agony of trying to stay awake during dinner and then having to readjust when we returned home—well, it just didn’t seem worth it. After the episode aired, I was fascinated by the response from a listener who took a dim view of my approach—and who, I strongly suspect, is an Obliger. She argued not that my approach would diminish my enjoyment of the vacation—which was Elizabeth’s point to me—but that my approach would take away from other people’s enjoyment.

Her Upholder nature had locked in and wouldn’t release. Another Upholder told me in mock despair: “I kept increasing my daily Fitbit steps goal until I was literally jogging beside the bed before I would get in, just to reach the target.” That’s tightening.

SUMMARY: UPHOLDER LIKELY STRENGTHS: Self-starter Self-motivated Conscientious Reliable Thorough Sticks to a schedule Eager to understand and meet expectations POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: Defensive Rigid Often struggles when plans or schedules change Can seem humorless and uptight Uneasy when rules are ambiguous or undefined Impatient when others need reminders, deadlines, supervision, or discussion Demanding May become anxious about obeying rules that don’t even exist

Upholders do well as entrepreneurs or freelancers, or with any kind of side hustle, because they’re self-motivated. They can identify what needs to be done and then follow through, even when they don’t have a client, customer, or boss to hold them accountable.

Upholders—like people in all the Four Tendencies—can’t turn their personalities on and off. In many ways, it’s great to be married to an Upholder, but on the other hand, an Upholder is likely to want to work during a vacation or to practice the violin even when guests are visiting for the weekend.

A parent might explain, “Your teacher expects you to read for thirty minutes every night, but because we went to visit Grandma, it will be bedtime by the time we get home. A good night’s sleep will make you alert for school tomorrow, and that’s more important than reading tonight.” Or: “The teacher understands that sometimes children can’t complete an assignment, for reasons that aren’t their fault, and that’s okay.” Those arguments will work better than arguments such as “You deserve it,” “The teacher won’t know that you skipped one day,” “The teacher isn’t the boss of you,” or “Reading for thirty minutes is just an arbitrary goal,” which are far less persuasive to an Upholder.

And they might be uneasy in an area where expectations aren’t clear, where rules are ambiguous—or where they’re expected to stretch the rules. The boss wants a general counsel who will interpret tax laws aggressively and creatively? Don’t hire an Upholder.

“Because to be the CEO of a public company, you have to be comfortable with following the rules and meeting enormous expectations from others. And you also have to feel self-directed, you have to be able to steer your own course and tell people no.” An Upholder friend, an investment banker, joined in the conversation. “I think that’s right. Like an Obliger makes a great number two—” “My number two is an Obliger, and he’s outstanding,” the first man interjected.

SUMMARY: DEALING WITH AN UPHOLDER They readily meet external and internal expectations They’re self-directed, so they can meet deadlines, work on projects, and take the initiative without much supervision They enjoy routine and may have trouble adjusting to a break in routine or sudden scheduling changes They hate to make mistakes, and because of that… They may become very angry or defensive at the suggestion that they’ve dropped the ball or made a mistake They put a high value on follow-through They may need to be reminded that, unlike them, others aren’t necessarily comforted or energized by getting things done They may have trouble delegating responsibilities, because they suspect that others aren’t dependable

Questioner: “I’ll comply—if you convince me why”

A Questioner thinks, “My teacher explained that I’ll finish my math homework more quickly once I’ve memorized the multiplication tables, so I want to get that done,” or “My wife has wanted me to clean out the guest room for months, but we never use the guest room, so I refused to do it. Now that we have guests coming in a few weeks, I’ll do it.”

Questioners have the self-direction of Upholders, the reliability of Obligers, and the authenticity of Rebels.

Questioners want to make well-considered decisions and are often willing to do exhaustive research. They love to weigh their options. Just as Upholders love index cards, I’ve noticed that a love of spreadsheets is very common among Questioners—they also tend to send people lots of articles.

A boss who doesn’t understand a Questioner’s ways may find the behavior annoying, or disrespectful, or decide that the Questioner “isn’t a team player.” One Questioner told me that he was fired because even though he was doing good work, his thin-skinned boss interpreted his barrage of questions as insubordination.

The constant questioning means that Questioners sometimes suffer from analysis-paralysis. They want to continue to gather research, weigh their options, and consider more possibilities. They crave perfect information, but very often in life we must make decisions and move forward without perfect information.

legendary entrepreneur and business leader Steve Jobs was a Questioner, and when he was a young man he believed that eating a fruit-heavy, vegetarian diet meant that he didn’t need to worry about body odor—even though many people told him that, in fact, he did need to worry about it. And this aspect of the Questioner can actually become dangerous. When Jobs was first diagnosed with the cancer that led to his death, he rejected the accepted approach of chemotherapy and surgery, and unsuccessfully tried to cure himself using a self-prescribed regimen of acupuncture, a vegan diet, herbal remedies, and other nonconventional treatments before finally agreeing to surgery.

On the other end of the spectrum, some Questioners tip toward Rebel; they challenge expectations so fiercely, and reject them so often, that they may look like Rebels. (The key differences? Questioners resist an expectation because they think it’s unjustified; Rebels resist because they don’t want to be controlled. Another telling distinction: If Questioners set an expectation for themselves, they have little trouble meeting it; Rebels struggle.)

I knew that Questioners ask a lot of questions—but I was intrigued when a podcast listener asked, “Have you noticed that Questioners resist being questioned themselves?” I’d absolutely noticed it in my Questioner husband. In fact, his refusal to be questioned is so pronounced that in our family we have a long-running joke about “N2K.” He provides answers on a “need to know” basis only. Whether it’s “What are you making for dinner?” or “When will you start your new job?” Jamie refuses to answer. Which can drive me crazy.

Questioners need to limit their overdeliberation. To avoid getting distracted by the urge to dig deeper, Questioners should focus on their ultimate aim. A Questioner friend told me, “I have an insatiable need for information, so when I feel myself getting sucked into research mode, I ask myself, ‘Is this information actually relevant to what I’m trying to decide? Why am I spending this time and energy on this question?’ ”

It’s important for Questioners to remind themselves to do what they must so that they can do what they want.

SUMMARY: QUESTIONER LIKELY STRENGTHS: Data-driven Fair-minded (according to his or her judgment) Interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective Willing to play devil’s advocate Comfortable bucking the system if it’s warranted Inner-directed Unwilling to accept authority without justification POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: Can suffer analysis-paralysis Impatient with what he or she sees as others’ complacency Crackpot potential Unable to accept closure on matters that others consider settled if questions remain unanswered May refuse to observe expectations that others find fair or at least nonoptional (e.g., traffic regulations) May resist answering others’ questions

Questioners love research, finding efficiencies, and eliminating irrational processes. They reject lazy explanations like “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Their questioning ensures that an organization uses its resources most effectively.

If a Questioner student asks, “Why do I need to know about ancient Mesopotamia? This will never be of any use to me,” a teacher might respond unhelpfully, “This is what we’re studying now, so get with the program,” or helpfully, “You’re learning about Mesopotamia, true, but this assignment is teaching you much more. You’re learning how to analyze complex material quickly, how to pull essential ideas out of a text, how to take notes efficiently, and how to explain ideas in your own words. These are important skills that will serve you well.”

It’s worth noting, too, that Questioners often show a strong urge to customize. They may decide to follow instructions in the way they think makes the most sense—i.e., not exactly as prescribed. For that reason, it’s important to explain why instructions should be followed precisely: “This medication should be taken at mealtimes, because otherwise it can cause severe nausea.”

friend’s Questioner husband took charge of his own cancer treatment—much to the dismay of his wife and doctors. They kept asking, “Why do you think you know more than a team of cancer doctors?” But he’d done his own research and drawn his own conclusions, and that carried more weight to him than any expert authority. To persuade him otherwise, the people around him would’ve done better to scrutinize the facts and reasoning that he found compelling and to present their facts and reasoning behind a different medical recommendation rather than just repeating, “Can’t you listen to the doctors?”

Because Questioners need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, some want to be their own bosses, where they can do their own research and make their own decisions. Questioners hate doing anything arbitrary or irrational or inefficient, so whatever career they follow, they’d be wise to avoid those conditions.

SUMMARY: DEALING WITH A QUESTIONER They question all expectations and meet them only if they believe they’re justified, with the result that they may meet only inner expectations They put a high value on reason, research, and information They make decisions based on information and reason; sometimes, the reason is that it’s important to someone else They follow the advice of “authorities” only if they trust their expertise They follow their own judgment—sometimes even when it flies in the face of experts who (allegedly) know more They persistently ask questions, which may make them seem uncooperative or defiant They hate anything arbitrary—rules like “Five garments to a fitting room” They dislike being questioned themselves; they consider their actions carefully so they find it tiresome or even insulting to be asked to justify their decisions They may have trouble delegating decision making, because they suspect that others don’t have a sufficient basis for action

Obliger: “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me”

Obligers readily meet the outer expectations imposed by others but struggle to meet the inner expectations they want to impose on themselves.

all the Tendencies, the Obliger Tendency is the largest Tendency, for both men and women.

Obligers show up, they answer the midnight call from the client, they meet their deadlines, they fulfill their responsibilities, they volunteer, they help out (until they stop—see the discussion later on Obliger-rebellion). Whether at work or at home, Obliger is the Tendency that’s most likely to contribute.

the O Tendency is the universal partner; Obligers get along most easily with the other three Tendencies.

When what others expect from Obligers is what they expect from themselves, they have the life they want.

Obligers depend on outer accountability to meet both their outer and inner expectations; if that accountability is missing, they struggle.

To meet inner expectations, Obligers must create structures of outer accountability. They need tools such as supervision, late fees, deadlines, monitoring, and consequences enforced from the outside to keep their promises to themselves.

Some Obligers—particularly introverted Obligers—prefer impersonal forms of accountability, such as an app or a paid coach who communicates by email. Also, for some Obligers, accountability works better when it’s positive. Reminders and oversight feel like nagging, and nagging may trigger Obliger-rebellion. These Obligers do much better when accountability takes the form of praise, cheers, and encouragement.

Obligers can often do things for others that they can’t do for themselves, so an Obliger may be able to meet an aim by thinking of its benefit to other people instead of its personal value. For instance, many Obligers have told me that they were able to leave a bad marriage only after they realized that they had to protect their kids.

As an Upholder, when I hear someone say, “I realized I need to do this so I can be a better parent/ employee/ friend,” I think, “No, do it for yourself!” But for Obligers, doing something for other people helps them do it for themselves.

My very favorite accountability device came from the Obliger who told me, “I wanted to get up earlier, but I live alone. So I created an embarrassing Facebook post and use Hootsuite to set it to post every morning at 8: 00 a.m. unless I get up ahead of time to disable it.”

The Obliger pattern is not an issue of self-sacrifice, self-esteem, boundaries, motivation, people-pleasing, or discipline, but rather—and I repeat it yet again—an issue of external accountability.

I’m an Obliger, and the conflicts in our marriage happen when we’re around other people. Then I change from obliging my husband’s wishes to obliging the other people we’re with. This confuses my husband; he’s used to me obliging his whims.

Not only do the other Tendencies ignore expectations that an Obliger feels obliged to meet, they’re often unsympathetic to the Obligers. While Obligers may view their action as admirable—“ I put other people’s needs before my own”—the other Tendencies may not see it this way.

Obligers may reach a point of Obliger-rebellion, where they simply refuse to meet some expectation—often dramatically and without warning.

Tennis superstar Andre Agassi’s outstanding memoir, Open, reveals him to be a textbook Obliger who displays Obliger-rebellion. He’s able to meet others’ expectations (his father’s demand that he excels at tennis; his girlfriend Brooke Shields’s desire to get married) but struggles to meet his expectations for himself. He shows his Obliger-rebellion in small, symbolic ways, such as defying tennis tradition by wearing denim shorts and sporting a mullet, actions that he describes as “thrashing against the lack of choice in my life.”

I feel terrible about being late, but it just ticks me off that he says that to me so often. The more he says it, the less I’m on time.” Odd side note: Being deliberately late is a popular form of Obliger-rebellion.

Obliger-rebellion is also an important form of self-protection. Obliger-rebellion can act as a vital emergency escape hatch; it allows the Obliger to break free from that hated job, unbearable spouse, difficult relationship, or burdensome obligation.

SUMMARY: OBLIGER LIKELY STRENGTHS: Good boss, responsive leader, team player Feels great obligation to meet others’ expectations Responsible Willing to go the extra mile Responds to outer accountability POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: Susceptible to overwork and burnout May show the destructive pattern of Obliger-rebellion Exploitable May become resentful Has trouble saying no or imposing limits

In many cases, Obligers make excellent colleagues and bosses. They follow through, they pitch in when other people need help, they volunteer for optional assignments, they’re flexible when things need to change.

To avoid an Obliger-rebellion, a boss, employee, or coworker can help Obligers establish limits and boundaries: —Remind the Obliger that saying no allows him or her to say yes to work that’s more important: “I need your report on Friday, and if you keep getting dragged into other people’s meetings, you’ll miss the deadline.” —Enforce limits to prevent burnout and Obliger-rebellion: “You’re entitled to a vacation, and I’m going to make sure you take it.”

—Stop others from exploiting the Obliger: “We’re all up against the deadline, so everyone on this team needs to do his or her own final edits.” —Point to the Obliger’s duty as a role model: “If you stay until 9: 00 p.m., you set a bad example for your staff.” —Take work away from the Obliger, if the Obliger has taken on too much: A friend who heads a finance firm told me, “I have a very valuable employee—he’s the best. Everyone wants to work with him, because he makes people look good, but he can’t keep saying yes to everyone. It’s not sustainable. At his last review, I said, ‘You’re doing too much work, too well, and I mean that as a sincere criticism.’ He couldn’t delegate, he couldn’t step back. So we took him off a big account, and he’s doing much better.”

Once established as entrepreneurs, Obligers may find it easy to meet the external commitments of their work—meeting client deadlines, filing taxes, answering the phone—yet struggle with inner-generated tasks, such as networking, building the business, or saying no to requests that waste their time or to clients who are overly demanding. As always, the solution is to find external systems of deadlines and boundaries.

As always, whenever people ask for accountability, it’s wise to provide it, if possible. One Obliger recalled: “I told my dentist, ‘Please hold me to my promise to floss. If I come back for my next exam and my mouth is in bad shape, call me on it!’

For some Obligers, it’s enough to receive an email reminder to take a medication or to use a fitness tracker to monitor their daily exercise; for some Obligers, an app that imposed a fine would be useful.

SUMMARY: DEALING WITH AN OBLIGER They readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations They put a high value on meeting commitments to others They succeed when given accountability, with supervision, deadlines, monitoring, and other forms of accountability, such as the duty to be a good role model They may have trouble setting limits on others’ demands They may have trouble delegating, because they feel that some expectations attach to them personally They must have systems of external accountability in order to meet inner expectations

They may be exploited by people who take advantage of them, and because of that… They may feel resentful or burned out, in which case… They may need managers or others to alleviate expectations, or they may rebel

Rebel: “You can’t make me, and neither can I”

Rebels do something because they choose to do it, and so they’re free from many of the pressures that the other Tendencies face.

At times, the Rebel Tendency is enormously valuable to society. As one Questioner pointed out, “The Rebels’ best asset is their voice of dissent. We shouldn’t try to school it out of them, or corporate-culture it out, or shame it out. It’s there to protect us all.” Many “Rebels with a cause” use their Rebel spirit to support the principles and purposes they believe in.

Rebels place a very high value on authenticity and self-determination, and want their lives to be a true expression of their values.

Rebellion is the opposite of compliance, but rebellion is not freedom.

Rebels want to do tasks in their own time—and if someone pushes them to hurry, they’re likely to resist and delay even more. The people around them may accuse them of being “procrastinators,” but Rebels aren’t necessarily reluctant to start work; they are refusing to be bossed around. The fact is, urging Rebels to do something will make them less likely to do it.

Although Rebels resist any expectations imposed on them, some Rebels feel quite comfortable imposing their expectations on others.

while Obligers are the most likely to say they wished they belonged to a different Tendency, Rebels come next. Several people have told me that they call themselves a “Reluctant Rebel.” They may feel isolated or frustrated;

In a nutshell, Rebels respond best to a sequence of information, consequences, and choice. We must give Rebels the information they need to make an informed decision; alert them to the consequences of actions they might take; then allow them to choose—with no lecturing, hovering, or hectoring.

Rebels do what they want—but if an action has unpleasant consequences, they may decide that they don’t want to do it, after all. And even when they initially push back when someone says, “It’s your choice, but have you considered…?” they often end up incorporating that information into their decision making. For information-consequences-choice to work, it’s crucial that Rebels do indeed suffer unpleasant consequences—whether to a Rebel’s health, reputation, or convenience. These unpleasant consequences can be painful to witness—and unfortunately, the consequences may affect others as well. However, if other people make problems go away, or do the Rebels’ work for them, or cover for them, Rebels have no reason to act.

Information, consequences, choice. Without lectures or micro-management or rescue. Ironically, some Rebels’ contrarian nature can make them easy to manipulate. Others can exploit their impulse to think, “You can’t make me” or “I’ll show you” or “Just watch me.” A friend couldn’t drag her Rebel daughter away from the television set, so she told her, “You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, you should relax. Stay home for a few days and watch TV.” At which point her daughter stood up, turned off the TV, and walked out the door.

One Rebel explained it: “If a habit is part of who I am, then that habit isn’t a chain holding me to the ground, it’s permitting me to be authentic to myself.”

One Rebel combined the strategy of identity with the Rebel love of challenge: “To get things done, I trick my mind with a dare. I tell myself, ‘I’m a Rebel who can stick to a routine and follow through.’ This challenge excites me. It’s rebellious to be a Rebel who can do disciplined things that you don’t expect.”

In some cases, Rebels can reframe the situation so that instead of thinking, “This person expects me to do this task”—which triggers opposition—they think, “This person is doing what I want him to do, so I can get the result I want” or “This job is teaching me the skills I want.” A Rebel friend explained to me, “My mortgage broker asked me to send her some information and I resisted until I thought, ‘She works for me, she’s refinancing my mortgage, so I have more money to spend, not to pour into the pockets of some big bank.’ And then I was able to send the information.”

Some Rebels use negative consequences as a way to force themselves to act. I heard of one ambitious Rebel writer who kept herself prolific by giving away money as fast as she earned it. She knew that if she didn’t have to write to make money, she wouldn’t be able to make herself write.

The Rebel Tendency contains surprising paradoxes. For instance, some Rebels gravitate to institutions with many expectations and rules, such as the military, the police, large corporations, and religious communities.

SUMMARY: REBEL LIKELY STRENGTHS: Independent-minded Able to think outside the box Unswayed by conventional wisdom Willing to go his or her own way, to buck social conventions In touch with his or her authentic desires Spontaneous POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: Likely to resist when asked or told to do something Uncooperative Inconsiderate Has trouble accomplishing tasks that need to be done consistently, the same way, every time

Acts as though ordinary rules don’t apply Restless; may find it difficult to settle down in a job, relationship, city Struggles with routines and planning May be indifferent to reputation

Rebels can be very productive, but usually only if they’re allowed to do their work in their own way. The less bossing and supervision they get, the better—though it’s true, paradoxically, that some Rebels do need structure to ignore and push against.

At work with Rebels, it’s helpful to provide information, frankly present possible consequences, and allow them to choose how to act. Information-consequences-choice: “The weekly staff meeting is where we make many important decisions and where we divide up the work. If you skip the meeting, you won’t have a voice in the direction of this company, and you might get stuck on less desirable assignments.”

Recognizing that someone is a Rebel makes the pattern of his or her behavior much clearer. A college friend told me, “Knowing that my husband is a Rebel makes me feel better about our relationship. Now I don’t take it personally when I say, ‘Let’s do this,’ and he says, ‘I’ll never do that.’ It’s not a reflection of how he feels about me or the health of our marriage. It’s just the way he is, with everyone.”

The key point for the spouse of a Rebel? The more that’s asked, the more the Rebel will resist. As one spouse of a Rebel told me, “It has taken me twenty years to realize that the less I ask for, the more I get.” A striking pattern among Rebels is that if a Rebel is in a successful long-term relationship, at home or at work, that Rebel is usually paired with an Obliger.

It’s crucial to remember that for Rebels, they must feel that they’re doing what they want, not what others want. A Rebel wrote, “If you tell me to do something, I feel like your prisoner. But if you tell me, ‘Here are four possibilities, decide for yourself,’ then it’s more likely that I’ll do one.”

SUMMARY: DEALING WITH A REBEL They resist both outer and inner expectations They put a high value on freedom, choice, identity, and self-expression If someone asks or tells them to do something, they’re likely to resist. They may respond to a challenge: “I’ll show you,” “Watch me,” “You can’t make me,” “You’re not the boss of me” They may choose to act out of love, a sense of mission, belief in a cause They have trouble telling themselves what to do—even when it’s something they want to do They meet a challenge, in their own way, in their own time They don’t respond well to supervision, advice, or directions

They tend to be good at delegating If they’re in a long-term relationship, their partner is probably an Obliger

Applying the Four Tendencies

Another Rebel explained why she thinks the Upholder-Rebel pairing can be a good match: “I admire my Upholder husband’s extreme dedication and tireless pursuit of his goals. He values my independence and nonconformist thinking. We both belong to the two ‘extreme’ tendencies, and neither of us really understands Obligers or Questioners. To us, they seem inconsistent and mushy.”

When Questioners see Obligers fail to meet an inner expectation, they can sometimes be dismissive or harsh; because they don’t have trouble meeting inner expectations, they have little sympathy for Obligers’ struggle. Similarly, when Obligers complain about something they “have” to do, Questioners don’t have much sympathy, because they think, “If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it” or “Why did you say you’d do it, if you don’t want to?”

Upholder: “This is something that should be done. I’ve got it.” Questioner: “Why should I be doing this? Give me the evidence, I want reasons.” Obliger: “Let me show you how well I can do this.” Rebel: “Don’t tell me what to eat or how to exercise.”

It appeals to Upholders: Here are the rules, follow them. It appeals to Questioners: The reason for the rule “No food or drink” is that food and drink attract bugs, and bugs damage books. It appeals to Obligers: The librarians know that people have been breaking the rules, because we have ants, so stop! And it appeals to Rebels:

humor. A humorous sign can make a point in a way that’s informative, memorable, and doesn’t ignite the spirit of resistance; the right cartoon from Dilbert or The New Yorker can work better than a paragraph of directions. I remember a sign I saw at a swimming pool: “We don’t swim in your toilet. Please don’t pee in our pool.” For the office kitchen, a Rebel suggested this sign: “If the kitchen stays clean, we’ll take down the signs telling people to keep the kitchen clean.”

Building Beats